SEBRING, Fla. — No one knows why five people were killed in a Florida bank except the gunman himself.
A day after he opened fire at the SunTrust Bank in Sebring, many questions remain: Who were the victims? Why did this happen? And was there any way this could have been prevented?
This much we do know: The suspect, Zephen Xaver, 21, took hostages at the bank Wednesday afternoon and opened fire before barricading himself in the building, police said.
He called dispatch and told them bluntly what happened: “I have shot five people,” Xaver said, according to Sebring police Chief Karl Hoglund.
On Thursday, it’s still not clear whether the victims were bank employees or customers. They have not been publicly identified, pending family notifications.
Authorities said Xaver had resigned his job as a correctional officer trainee two weeks ago. But a motive remains a mystery.
Investigators spent hours collecting evidence at Xaver’s home and talking to people who know him Wednesday night, according to CNN affiliate Bay News 9. A crime scene unit remained at the house for hours.
“This is a terrible day for Sebring, Highlands County and for the state of Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
Suspect surrenders to SWAT team
The incident began with the phone call to authorities shortly after 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, officials said. Sebring police and Highlands County sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene.
Initial negotiations to try to get the barricaded suspect to leave the bank were not successful, so a SWAT team entered the bank and continued negotiations.
The suspect eventually surrendered to the SWAT team at the bank.
Suspect’s father says he is heartbroken
Josh Xaver, an Indiana resident who described himself as the suspect’s father, said he’s “heartbroken for the victims.” In a phone interview Wednesday, the elder Xaver said his son moved to Florida about a year ago.
“He wasn’t raised to be like this. He’s always been a good kid. He’s had his troubles,” he said without elaborating. “But he has never hurt anyone ever before. This is a total shock.”
Neighbor and family friend Sharon Spillane said the suspect’s family are “just absolutely normal people.” The suspect, she said, is “just very quiet.”
“I can’t comprehend it right now. I don’t understand how or why or what. I just, you go to their house, you go to somebody’s house and you’re there, and you hang out with them, they’re friends, and this happens,” she said.
The neighbor said Xaver’s mother was on a planned work trip.
He had been a correctional officer trainee
Zephen Xaver had been employed as a correctional officer trainee at Avon Park Correctional Institution and had resigned two weeks ago, according to Patrick Manderfield, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections.
He was hired by the facility on November 2 and resigned on January 9, Manderfield said.
SunTrust Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers said bank officials “are deeply saddened by the tragic shooting” at the branch.
“We are working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved. Our entire team mourns this terrible loss,” Rogers said in the statement.
Sebring is in Highlands County in the south-central part of the state, with a population of just over 10,000 at the time of the 2010 US census.
“We ask that you please keep them in your prayers, keep them in your thoughts,” the police chief said of the victims. “Help Sebring and our community stay strong.”